Sapporo (Japan) (AFP)
The Israel Folau saga? Exorcised. The mediocre year 2018? Obscured. Australia, declared candidate for the title, will try to chase its demons by launching its World Cup against Fiji, Saturday (1:45 pm / 6:45 French) in Sapporo (north).
Serious things are finally starting for Wallabies who have been in a row for two years. But the year 2019, under the sign of the rebound including a prestigious victory over the All Blacks (47-26) in August Rugby Championship, was overshadowed by the Folau affair.
The superstar back, dismissed after a volley of homophobic remarks, is not in Japan. And a legal battle continues between the federation and the player.
And in the field? A clearing ... Four years after the final lost to the All Blacks (34-17), the coach has recovered his crazy scorer, the third line David Pocock, to reconstruct the infernal duo "Pooper" he trains with Michael Hooper .
"We opted for the experience, if only for this game, they are players who have already played together, they know each other, we have been working on this eventuality in the last few weeks and it has worked quite well." said Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
"Pooper", a formidable machine to slow the game, should be preponderant against the Fijians, very dangerous as soon as the game accelerates. The French, beaten at home 21-14 last November, had made the bitter experience.
- A history of going back and forth -
While waiting for the match against the Welsh on September 29, presumably decisive for the first place of Pool D, Cheika has left some executives on the bench, like scrum half Will Genia or opener Bernard Foley. "At every post, there is competition, it makes things complicated when you have to make a selection but it's a good dilemma because it pushes the players to try to improve," said Cheika, who was already on the Australian bench during the victory over Fiji (28-15), at the World Cup-2015.
The two teams know each other well: the winger of the Wallabies Marika Koroibete has played in the 2013 World Cup under the colors of ... Fijian treizistes. His current teammates Samu Kerevi and Isi Naisarani are also from Fiji, while Semi Radradra, an international with XIII with Australia, Ben Volavola and Campese Ma'afu, both born in Sydney, made the opposite way.
The Fijians dream of reaching the quarter-finals for the third time in their history (1987, 2007). While proving that they were able to add rigor and discipline, especially in melee and touch, to their unpredictable rugby.
"We know that Australia is a very good team and that they will be a very big challenge for us but, after our preparation, I know we are mentally and physically ready," said John McKee, the Neo coach. Zealand from Fiji.
© 2019 AFP